Stripped

Life is seasonal.  Some of us are in seasons of wonderful reaping; marriage, babies, budding careers, great relationships; a season of plenty.  Then some of us are in a season of deep repair, uprooting, loss, or hard growth; the season in the refining furnace.  The uncomfortable place.  We will all have these seasons without a doubt. Seasons of huge refinement but glorious eye opening, and learning surrendered dependence on Jesus.  A season that shows you just how deep the rivers of your faith run.  This has been that season for me.

2015 has been one of the hardest years; one of the most adventurous, one of the most marveling while at the same time pushing me deeper and deeper into a trusting relationship with God.  Literally on January 1st, 2015, I felt overwhelmed thinking about everything it was going to take to let go of my relationship, and the life I imagined.

In hindsight, it feels like I’ve been carried through this entire year, with most things about it feeling surreal. Did I really move across the country by myself?  Did I really get to experience provision of friends, community, housing, job, everything, on this level? Do I really already know enough people here that I actually have to turn down activity invitations on the weekend?  Did all of the people I love come the 2800 miles to visit me within the first 6 months of being here, so that I never felt too far removed from home? Did I really go through those few months where I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest when I laid down every desire I had before God and knew that everything I wanted was dying?  Did that really happen where I felt like I was mourning and grieving?  Did I make it through that already?  Did the guy that I had loved since I was 17, and trusted with every fiber of my being, really start dating one of my friends?   The best friend that I talked to nearly every day since I was 14, did I really not hear a word from him inquiring about my well being or life for an entire year?

I left my life behind with very little fear or thought in general, only a sense that I had to go. It was, for lack of better description, a daze.

If you’ve ever experienced any type of extreme grief, a death, or loss, or life changing news, you’ll know that when it’s happening it feels kind of foggy, like you aren’t entirely living in it.  As I made each decision, as I watched things I feared unfold, I experienced this surreal sense of “is this happening?”; a sense of watching things unfold from under a veil.  Yet with each thing, I felt it, wept over it, and literally handed it over to God because I couldn’t carry it.  My comfort in meeting every circumstance of this year that has been entirely out of my control, has been the level of intimacy and dependency that my relationship with Jesus reached.

In looking back, I’m blown away by the fact that I got through this year with this inexplicable, underlying sense that I was being carried, that I wasn’t walking on my own two feet.  I walked with a sense of being upheld by a gentle assurance, a backbone of truth deep within me that assured me that every hard thing was planting something good within me.  There were times when hard things were happening and I almost felt jubilant at the thought of how God would answer the cry of my heart in those things.   It made me feel crazy, facing my most dreaded fears with this overwhelming sense that the glory God would get from this circumstance would be explosive.  A sense that when I am on the other side, all I will see is joy and dancing and celebration.

Some days I would wake up in the morning, get on my knees have my time with Jesus, and be keenly aware that the burdens I woke up with were lifted; that I could walk through that day like a normal human, not being dragged down by the weight of everything that I was grieving over.  I’ve walked through those periods of grieving and hurt before, and I can tell you there is an extreme difference in walking through your day carrying that grief, where you can’t focus on anything except what’s wrong, and you can’t be engaged because you feel like you don’t have room for anything else but your own broken heart.  This time, this year, I was carried.  I gave up my burdensome pile of brokenness most mornings, and in the incomprehensible way that He does, Jesus gave peace.  The mornings that I didn’t give my worries and burdens over to Jesus, the mornings I was too tired to hit my knees, or I hit snooze one too many times, those burdens weighed me down and spread into my day, which manifested itself with me crying in the bathroom stall at work, or lunch breaks sitting in my car to pray.

When I first moved, and a few times throughout, I very nearly sought  anxiety medication because thinking about everything that had changed, and how every hope that I had built my life on for the past several years had changed, felt suffocating.  Googling my symptoms of almost feeling out of body at times, not present in my surroundings, it was clear I was on the verge of having panic attacks, and I thought maybe it’s time to medicate. I would classify myself as a laid back, low stress person, so being in this anxious state was entirely new for me.

Literally everything I had wanted was demolished and I had never had to go through this level of loss before.  I wanted to marry my best friend that I had known since second grade. I wanted to raise my kids in a cul-de-sac with our best friends.  I wanted to feel justified for the years I had spent selflessly investing in a broken relationship.  I wanted country concerts, 4 wheeling, fishing, fires, boots, Nashville and Charleston, south Georgia and north Georgia, southern accents, and a big house where I would grow myself into the world’s best hostess.  I wanted to start a women’s bible study and create a place of shade for women my age.  I wanted to serve more, and be a staple in my community.  I wanted to start figuring out how to really build my ministry and have an impact on my city.  I wanted to see my version of perfect unfold because in my mind, God would get so much glory from me being that happy, and being able to tell people how many things He had worked out for me, because there were so many things that needed to be worked out.  I was so close to feeling established, the future that I wanted right at my finger tips and I was moving in the right direction.  What I wanted seemed impossible, but not getting that life that I wanted seemed even more so.  In my mind, He did not get glory from me having to leave everything I loved.  He didn’t get glory from stripping me from my every desire and starting over from scratch, even when I could see that the things I was pursuing separated me and distanced me from Him.  He didn’t get glory from me having a broken heart.  To me, there was no way that could’ve been the right route.

Stripped.   It’s the only word that I have to describe what happened to my heart this year.  I was stripped of every plan, every foundation that wasn’t Jesus; every desire that I chased after of my own accord.  I was stripped of the culture I loved, from the people I loved, and brought to live on an alien planet that couldn’t have been more different from what I was dreaming about.  I remember driving to work some days, those days that I didn’t lay it out for God to pick up, or when my prayers that morning just weren’t enough, and feeling my heart split open thinking about the loss and surrender of the life I planned for.  I was determined to surrender every desire, and fully accept what God had planned for me, though the process was heart wrenching.  I was determined to press forward on the one hope that I have in life, and that is that God is good, and He is good to me no matter what my circumstances say.  If He wanted me to plant myself in LA, I accepted that.  If He wanted me to live forever thousands of miles from my family, I would’ve done that.  If He had wanted me to start a ministry in this beautiful city, full of adventure with so much to offer, I would’ve done that.  I was consciously stepping away from everything I had planned, every route of mine, and opening up my heart to whatever it is He had planned.

Being stripped has been the hardest period of my life so far, but also the most awing.   Now I know what it means when Jesus says to die, is to gain. Now I know what supernatural provision looks like.

When I moved to California I was in a place that I was more comfortable in my faith than I had ever been before.  I was confident. I knew the right answers. I knew how God worked. I knew His character.  I could see how He would work things out.  I could open my Bible any day of the week and be enthralled by the Word.  I was wise enough to answer people’s questions and give them advice. My mind had a built in Control F function for finding the right Bible verse per the situation.  I could tell hard truths, but at the same time I was finally growing more graceful and loving and tender-hearted.  I was getting to a place where I classified myself in the “advanced” category of faith.  Yes, I still struggled with areas of sin. Yes, my love life was in shambles.  But I was rock solid and rooted in Jesus, with confidence and a feeling of wisdom beyond my years that came from the Holy Spirit.  I looked at myself and I was really happy with what I saw; how much I’d grown, what a leader I’d become, how strong in my faith I was. Strong.

As the year advanced, and I got more settled in in California, I didn’t feel confidence in any of those things.  I didn’t feel confidence in my ability, or discernment, or wisdom. I didn’t feel confidence in my future. I felt farther from strong than I have ever felt in my life.  I no longer found confidence in the level that I was serving God because I still haven’t found a church in LA that I want to establish myself in.  Before I left, I knew exactly who I wanted to be, what I was working toward and now I had nothing tangible to hope in.

Being stripped of all of these things that I had my confidence in that weren’t Jesus opened my eyes to the fact that my faithfulness, the reason I pursued God wholeheartedly, was built on things of my own conjecture.  I so strongly  desired the future and life I imagined for myself that I worked for it.  I served at church. I poured out. I prayed. I learned.  I followed the words. I kept my curse words to a minimal, and didn’t venture to bars with my friends that often.  I was working because I wanted this future that I imagined.  I wanted His favor.  I was striving to be faithful so that I would receive the end result that I thought made the most sense.

After everything that I had worked for and imagined faded away, when I got on my knees to pray, I didn’t know what to say.  That future that I was striving so hard for melted away.  When I looked at my life I didn’t know what to ask because I didn’t want anything except to forget everything about how my life used to be. My new only desire was to forget every painful moment that lead up to where I was, and to forget every good moment. I wanted to forget every friend.  I wanted to pretend that my Georgia life had never existed.  I wanted to forget everything that I had imagined so that I could find a way to be satisfied with what I had.  The kind of healing that I needed felt impossible, so as I bowed down to pray I was continually void of any direction.

As my inability to identify what to pray for grew, there was a space between God and I.  Now that my desires were swept away, I had nothing else to talk to Him about.  I had no reason to strive for Him if what I wanted was taken off the table, because anything I get after the fact, I thought, would just be second rate to what I wanted.  I had a “do to me as You will I don’t care anymore” type of mentality that left little room for love in my relationship with God, and more of an attitude of biting down and accepting the life He was giving me.  Accepting, but not joyfully.  Accepting, but definitely not with a notion that He is good, and that He withholds no good thing from me.  Accepting, but with the understanding that I would just force myself to endure whatever unfolded, because I knew it wouldn’t compare to the imaginary world that I gave up.  I moved forward under the pretense that God can only grow me through trials and if that’s what He was planning on doing with me, I really couldn’t muster up anything of substance to say to Him.  I felt like my life would be wave after wave of punishment or retribution to push me closer to God.  The way He pursued me and would always pursue me, was with pain.

Through words from friends, worship, the word, and a recent obsession with understanding stories of restoration throughout the bible, I hit a turning point.  I realized how incredible it is that He chose me to have an extraordinary story.  He chose my soul to strip down to the bare minimum so that I can cleave to nothing but Him; He becomes the only thing.  He chased after me.  He chose my soul for pruning, to reshape to more closely resemble His son.  He chose me for conformity.  He becomes my focus, and my foundation.  He becomes my hope.  He becomes the basis for which I do all things.  He chose me to know Him in the most intimate way.  I’ve always identified with Hosea 2, and how the Lord corners in the wilderness in order to truly speak to a heart, even when I was first learning to walk with Jesus in 2010:

“Therefore, behold, I will hedge up her way with thorns; and I will build a wall against her that she shall not find her paths.  And she shall follow after her lovers but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them….for she has not noticed, understood, or realized that it was I who gave her the grain…I will lay waste and destroy her vines and her fig trees…I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness, and I will speak tenderly and to her heart…I will make the valley of trouble to be for her a door of hope and expectation.  And she shall sing there and respond as in the days of her youth…And I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love, and mercy. I will betroth you to Me in stability and in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord…I will sow her for Myself anew in the land, and I will have love, pity, and mercy for her who had not obtained love, pity and mercy; I will say to those who were not My people, You are my people, and they shall say, You are my God. “

God becoming the only thing now means that I get to build everything else on Him.  My future is on Him.  My friendships are built on Him.  I’ve felt more broken than I ever have in my life, and never have I felt more whole and hopeful. My heart is now rooted in the fact That He loves me and has good things planned for me.  And that everything I’ve met this far was ordained, established by Him to get my heart down to this point; to tear me down so that I can be built up on new, solid ground.  That He has promised me restoration beyond what I would think possible.

I can’t imagine going through this year without my faith, and my hope being rooted in a God that is good; whose character is echoed through history and eternity, and whose creativity is magnified through the sky and earth and everything beautiful that He has made.  This year I’ve come to know God as the Comforter and Defender.  To learn to trust that He is just despite circumstance.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to convey with words what happens to your heart when you feel like it is entirely known and the level of comfort that comes from that when you are brokenhearted over something that seems entirely unjust.  Or the level of comfort that came from knowing that He has gone before me and behind me to determine my steps when I was removed from everyone I loved, and getting over the hardest things I’ve ever faced in a place where I felt completely alone.  I wouldn’t give up any part of the past 12 months of my life because I’ve experienced the comfort of God in a way that deepened my faith beyond what I thought I could reach.

My mind has literally been reworked, because my desires were stripped away, and I can say with complete genuineness of heart that my decision making process, my thoughts, my plans, are entirely different than they were before this year.  I know God more deeply than I thought was possible, especially because I thought that I had already gone pretty deep.  I am more securely rooted in Him. I am stable and steady, and not easily afraid.  I feel like worn in leather; soft and strong.  I know the place of brokenness. I know that sometimes God has to uproot every thing so that the soil can be made fertile, and give life.  I know there is no such thing as something that I can’t face.  I know there is no such thing as “not being able to live without”.  Before I was stripped, the vessel of my heart was easily shaken and stirred by waves and turmoil.  Now I feel steady and more whole than I ever could’ve imagined before getting to this place.

 

 

 

Romans 8:28-30

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called, according to His purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His son, that He might be the first born among many brethren.  Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified

 


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